Thomas Robinson | February 9th, 2021
In a new study, researchers have published a link between climate driven shifts in bat populations, and the emergence of COVID-19.
Researchers mapped the global range of bat populations, as well as changes in global vegetation within the past 100 years to determine how changes in global bat species richness were driven by climate change. There were many regions across the globe that experienced local increases in bat populations, such as parts of Brazil and eastern Africa, however a major hotspot was the Yunnan province in southern China. Over the 100 year time span, around 40 bat species flocked to the province, which is a significant concern as it is known that the number of coronaviruses in a region is closely linked to local bat species richness. Researchers point out that the Yunnan province is also the likely place of origin for both SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2.
Bats are studied because they are known to carry the largest amount of zoonotic diseases out of all mammals, and both the SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks have been attributed to bat populations. Zoonotic diseases are illnesses that are transferred to humans by animals when both populations begin to interact. As human’s develop and expand into animal habitats these interactions become more common, especially as climate change drives the spread of disease vectors such as mosquitoes. In a separate study, it was shown that over 60% of emerging infectious diseases, like COVID-19, are linked to animal to human transmission.